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The rise, fall and deafening crash of Sonic the Hedgehog

Oh, Sonic. What's happened to you? It's no small secret that Sega's once-dominant mascot has slipped over the years, with awful games making things worse by the month. But worldwide love is still strong, and each time there's a new platformer announced we shuffle in line like a bunch of nice devoted fanboys and pray, deep down, that this will be the Sonic game that doesn't suck. And we're let down every time.

 

Above: CRAP

How did it come to this?

That's what we're here to discuss. From the successful beginning to the most recent "Wolf Sonic" shocker, we'll chronicle Sonic's descent from superstar to punchline.

 

If you weren't around for Sonic's arrival, you missed out on his best moments. Sega needed a mascot that could rival Nintendo's unchallenged Mario, and in 1991 that's precisely what it created. Sonic's carefully designed attitude, penchant for speed and "I've got things to do" demeanor made Mario look like, well, a slow, tubby plumber. Sonic was cool and Mario wasn't, a "truth" that made bitter rivals out of gamers everywhere.

This cultural takeover happened so fast you'd swear Sonic himself orchestrated the whole thing. Cartoons, collectibles, comic books, even a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, making him the very first gaming icon to appear in one of America's best known celebrations. There's also evidence to suggest that in the early to mid 1990s, Sonic was more well-known to kids than Mickey Mouse. He went from idea to worldwide icon faster than Mario - just one of the many things Sega claimed Nintendidn't do at the time. As a result, Sega was on top of the world, gleefully stealing Nintendo's iron-fisted market share day by day, playground by playground.

 

After three highly successful entries on the Genesis/Mega Drive, Sonic's renown was at its peak. Each game was a joy, letting you tear ass through all kinds of colorful stages faster than any other game at the time, yet maintained a sense of order; even though Sonic's going nuts, you still felt in control, that you were the one making him do all these amazing things. Running through corkscrews, giant loops and infinitely long half pipes were experiences exclusive to Sonic, and Sonic only gamed for Sega. He wasn't just a franchise anymore, he was the company.

As the early '90s wore on, Sonic starred in the flagship Sega CD title, Sonic CD, one of GR's favorite games in the series. Then Sonic & Knuckles landed in 1994 with "lock on" tech that let you snap Sonic 2 and 3 into the top of the cart, unlocking Knuckles as a playable character in the older games. There were two cartoons airing during this time too; neither was very good. The first was embarrassingly juvenile and the other took itself too seriously. For our money, the best piece of Sonic animation came from the aforementioned Sonic CD:



Above: The Sega CD version was grainy and small, but this GameCube remake restored the ending to its full screen, hyperactive glory

Fun as they were, Sonic CD and Knuckles were essentially more of the same. The formula, while immensely successful and the basis for countless 16-bit imitators, wasn't going to keep Sonic ahead of the pack forever. Early experiments like 3D Blast were hardly runaway hits.

With what appeared to be a blank slate for the property, Sonic developers went wild with new ideas. And what came out was derivative, unwanted nonsense.

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22 comments

  • ultimatepunchrod - September 13, 2010 11:07 p.m.

    do you guys think that maybe, just maybe, the review scores for the re release of sonic adventure had more to do with how platformers got better in the time period since its original release. stop making it sound like sonic was always awful just because its cool to hate him right now.
  • Chaoscoolperson - September 13, 2010 12:47 a.m.

    The last sonic I liked was Sonic Advanced Battle 2 mostly because of the chaos and the music.
  • Urza4315 - July 11, 2010 2:18 a.m.

    Sonic + Speed + Destructible environments = WIN. There you go Sega, see what you can make out of that.
  • ryno - June 8, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    i wounder if sega deliberately made sonic the hedgehog 2006 suck
  • JackSkellingtonsSkin - February 17, 2010 1:39 a.m.

    I was just listening to tdar 18 and when Brett said it was posted on a bunch of forums and therefore achieved 'just' below successful. Hopefully my view will make it successful.
  • Eevee10001 - February 15, 2010 5:39 p.m.

    Sonic Heroes, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic Unleashed wheren't THAT bad, but they always get boring after playing the same areas for awhile...
  • LikaLaruku - January 31, 2010 7:32 a.m.

    I was uncomfortable with Sonic 3D Blast & Sonic Adventure was the final straw for me. Glad I listened to my gamer intuition & skipped out on all this crap.
  • marcuszer0 - September 4, 2008 2:10 a.m.

    Sonic the Were-hog...hmm...nope, doesn't sound like something to get too exited about. And for a Sonic RPG, another Mario rip? Let's just hope that they have enough money after being sued for stealing ideas (god of war, Super Mario RPG, legend of the seven stars) to make a solid title after so long.
  • j21795 - July 6, 2009 5:13 p.m.

    I don't get it. When a company tries to experiment with new things, you shouldn't hate them for it. If Sonic keeps doing the same thing it will eventually get old. You should be happy that Sega is expiramenting with new things to keep Sonic alive
  • ALazyMonkey - March 29, 2009 3:31 a.m.

    The extreme sonic game actually looked pretty good, would have gotten lost in the levels very fast though...
  • SuperStingray - February 24, 2009 2:59 a.m.

    "Sonic and the Secret Rings" "Crap" Stopped reading there.
  • killemall - February 19, 2009 8:32 p.m.

    Actually Sonic Unleashed wasn't that bad... or maybe its because the last sonic title was sooo bad that i enjoyed it, but i did like the going superfast, and not having to deal with any other retarded charcaters... knuckles didn't even make an appearance. and you minimally had to deal with tails or amy. which is always good.
  • nateb127 - September 22, 2009 2:13 a.m.

    poor sonic look what sega did to him...he was once so great now look at him... i have given up hope leaving it at that
  • igrimARU - September 19, 2009 6:22 p.m.

    "My poor Sonic, what have they done to you?" *sob* I am one of those people who grew up with him, but I think it must have been somewhere in between all that crap and good stuff, so I have all these mixed feelings about this. (Sadly, my relatives give me most of those "crappy" games and expect me to enjoy them. TORTURE.) ...Okay, I have no idea what's wrong with me. :( But I have high hopes that he'll someday get better... But I also have high doubts. --Jazz.
  • MATTSHADOW - September 12, 2009 9:47 a.m.

    ive played all the games on the sega, all the sonic advance games on the gba and have shadow the hedgehog sonic and the secret rings and sonic and the black knight and in my personal opioin these games rock, although sonic and the secret rings got boring after a while
  • ilike2pwn - September 7, 2009 9:41 p.m.

    R.I.P. Sonic The Hedgehog Its too late no, Sonic is over
  • marluxia2500 - July 24, 2009 6:40 p.m.

    Man i was so excited for sonic unleashed...but then the Were-douche-hog came up...i nearly cried...oh and i liked sonic adventure 2 battle for the gc
  • clucky120 - July 21, 2009 5:04 p.m.

    sonic adventure battle 2 is actually a decent gc game. even if you curse the name rouge after it.
  • leavemealone - April 2, 2009 6:53 p.m.

    I liked Shadow the Hedgehog. His dark, moody, mysterious personality, his ambiguous sense of morarlity, being haunted by his past and the tragic loss of Maria made him such a cool character. And I liked how you choose to ether save the world with good ol' Sonic, or PLUNGE IT INTO DESPAIR AND RUIN! MUHAHAHAHAA!
  • Superchops - September 21, 2011 8:23 a.m.

    Really? I thougt he was a whiny insufferable twat. Couldn't care less about the save-or-destroy thing.

Showing 1-20 of 22 comments

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